Pathways to Graduation: Measuring Multi-Institutional Time to Degree by Attendance Patterns




Tucker, Jennifer

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This exploratory study responded to the need to better understand student attendance patterns in higher education. In the context of higher education accountability, where four-year and six-year graduation are key measures of success, attendance pattern is overlooked as it relates to both the likelihood of undergraduate degree attainment and time to degree. Specifically, this study examined the following four attendance patterns: single institution attendance, traditional transfer from a two-year to a four-year institution, lateral transfer from one four-year institution to another, and swirling, where students attended three or more different institutions.

Using a discrete-time hazard model, this study included student-level demographic characteristics from institutional datasets, multi-institutional enrollment characteristics from National Student Clearinghouse data, and attendance pattern to determine factors related to graduation over the time period of fall 2004 through spring 2014. Additionally, results from this model were used to compare Kaplan Meier survival functions for combinations of significant covariates to better understand their relevance in respect to graduation within attendance pattern groupings.

Key findings suggest that attendance pattern and other factors related to college enrollment are significantly related to both the odds of graduating, as well as time to degree. Overall, results indicated that knowing students' attendance patterns enhances the understanding of their time to degree, suggesting that institutions should collect and utilize this information. Finally, this study supports the call to replace four-year and six-year graduation metrics with measures better suited to how students structure their pathways through higher education.


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Discrete-time, Graduation, Swirling, Time to Degree, Transfer, Undergraduate



Educational Leadership and Policy Studies